Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Quagmire in Afghanistan

Today is Wednesday, 10 October 2007.

On 7 October 2001, American and British forces began the invasion and conquest of Afghanistan. No more than in Iraq can an ending date for the war be reasonably projected. Given that both wars have been directed by criminally incompetent commanders at the highest level, this is hardly surprising.

The die had been cast long before 11 September 2001. Beginning in the late 1970s, neoconservatives had cast covetous eyes on Iraq. They believed that the overthrow of its Ba’athist dictatorship and its subsumation into the American imperial system (an easy task, to be sure, they said) would insure American hegemony over the Middle East and its oil for decades. This fantasy received formal codification in a 1998 open letter to President Bill Clinton from leaders of The Project for the New American Century, a neoconservative “think” tank (including disgraced and discredited former Secretary of War Donald Rumsfeld).

11 September provided the pretext for the conquest of Iraq, as Rumsfeld himself made clear in National Security Council deliberations within hours of the attacks. The decision to conquer Iraq also made it certain that the U.S. military would become bogged down in Afghanistan.

The reason is that the neoconservatives, and particularly Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld, had chosen a fatally flawed strategy for fighting ground wars. They believed that the demise of the Soviet threat had rendered obsolete strategies requiring large masses of infantry and armor. Their new strategy called for smaller troop deployments, supposedly “leaner and meaner”, whose main function would be to find and fix enemy units, which would then be decimated by airpower, leaving the infantry to mop up and collect candy and flowers from an indigenous population fawningly grateful for an accomplished mission.

This doctrine also meant that infantry would be supported by fewer tanks and less artillery, and would rely on mobility for protection, instead of on heavily-armored vehicles, as had been the case during the Cold War.

This meant that fewer infantry units were available for the war in Afghanistan, being held in reserve for the Iraq war. Thus, instead of deploying American infantry in the attempt to capture Osama bin Laden, American Special Forces were dispatched with large amounts of taxpayer cash with which to buy the “loyalty” of Afghan tribal mercenaries, who had previously been sympathetic to al-Qaeda. It is thus no surprise that bin Laden and many of his fighters were able to escape and remain at large.

The reliance on airpower, which is inherently less discriminatory between combatants and civilians, meant that any hopes of winning the hearts and minds of many Afghans would perish, like them, under American bombs. Also complicating the situation is the continuing American reliance on many of the same warlords who had so brutally and corruptly ruled over and ruined Afghanistan in the years between the departure of the Soviet military and the victory of the Taliban.

Also winning few friends is the American insistence on destroying the opium poppy industry. (Last year’s crop set another record level of production.) While the peoples of the Third World have abysmally low levels of access to morphine, the Bush-Cheney regime demands the eradication of the poppy fields, rather than their conversion to production for medical purposes.

While the Bush-Cheney regime continues to insist that victory is at hand, the signs read otherwise.

According to The Sunday Times (London), the British government has announced that the present UK forces (7,000) in Afghanistan will be rotated home in spring 2007, and replaced by 8,000 troops. This deployment will include additional Special Forces, as well as all four battalions (plus reservists) of the Parachute Regiment, the largest deployment of the latter since 1945. The Royal Air Force will send Tornado and Typhoon ground-attack squadrons to augment Harrier squadrons. An interdepartmental committee is preparing plans to hire additional mercenaries (“private security contractors”) to augment the over-tasked regular forces.

The only hope I can imagine for Afghanistan requires the same attempted solution I see for Iraq. These two wars of unilateral American conquest must be ended by placing Afghanistan and Iraq under international control. The motivation must not be American aggrandizement, but the welfare of the peoples of Afghanistan and Iraq.

Otherwise, the wars and the suffering will continue indefinitely.


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